I remember as a child being dragged around museums, ancient ruins, cathedrals and art galleries and almost without exception, absolutely hating them. I loved the Science Museum in London, and the Natural History Museum, which in my memory at least, was just around the corner. But then, they seemed to encourage some interaction with the exhibits. There is one occasion which stands out in my memory, when my brother pointed out, in a very loud voice, that the displayed stuffed American Bison was very well endowed indeed. On the whole though, I just recall mind numbing boredom and I am almost certain that I routinely took a silent oath, never to subject my own children to such unparalleled tedium.
Ah, the folly of youth! Just last weekend I took my eldest two, to a pretty decent sized museum full of trains, planes, automobiles, and all manner of other contraptions. Well, it was fantastic! First we looked at the cars, and then the fire engines, and after that, it was time to look at some steam engines. We found another hanger full of old cars, farm machinery and motor bikes. In an adjacent hall there was an earthquake simulation room, which, in light of recent events here in New Zealand, was actually really frightening, and next to that a mirror maze, which considering my reflection, was pretty terrifying too. Then we discovered the children’s playground, a themed area which allowed the kids to see exactly how machines work. In this particular zone, it was vitally important that I showed the kids how to turn the crank, and repeat it several times, just so that they got the hang of it. I received several worried looks from some of the Mums who were watching, but I was having so much fun that I was quite able to ignore them. Eventually the kids had a try, but by then it was time to move on to the next area.
After we’d finished there we went for a bit more of a walk. We came across a mad scientist doing some very impressive experiments, and a life size model of the new trains serving our city, which the kids could “drive”. We then had a ride on a fully functioning vintage tram, which took us to an incredible aircraft display. There were a number of people around who seemed to be volunteers, ready to impart some words of knowledge to us, but despite their enthusiasm, they all resisted the urge to shove it down our throats for which I was immensely grateful.
All in all we’d had a really great time.
Well, I say that, but later that evening when I was reflecting on how great it had been, and internally basking in my own glory, Mrs L. asked me how it had gone. I gave her a blow by blow account of our day, and only noticed that she was not longer listening, when she began to gently snore. After nudging her a few times, I asked her whether the kids had said anything. I was really quite upset when she told me that our daughter had said she hadn’t enjoyed it and that it was boring!
Perhaps it was me showing her the difference between a straight six engine and a V8, that pushed her over the edge, but she seemed engaged. She was interested enough to say that she preferred the V8 because it was shinier, but perhaps she was missing the point.
Or maybe it is me, who has missed point. As I think back to those days of walking through those old Victorian buildings, I can distinctly remember thinking that we had learned enough in school, and why did I have to spend my holidays learning more. I just wanted to be on the beach or riding my bike or doing what a child loves doing, not looking at a picture of a long dead Queen or King (with some of those wigs it was sometimes hard to tell).
Boy-Boy seemed to have a great time, but then he’s not at school yet, and he has the ability to make the very best out of almost any situation (more about that another time). But then motor vehicles are, I would have thought, more likely to interest a boy than a girl.
Perhaps though, this is some giant joke, with each generation of new parents vainly hoping that their kids will enjoy these places more than they ever did. I’m sure that the ones which I’ve visited recently are far more enjoyable than the stuffy old Victorian collections I visited as a youngster, but it could be that now I am just more interested in the way the world works. In today’s exhibits, I’m certain that kids are encouraged to get involved a whole lot more than they ever have been. But alas, youth is, they say, wasted on the young. And perhaps Museums are too.